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Stress can be an emotional or physical response to any event or situation that makes you nervous, frustrated, scared or even unhappy. While occasional bouts of stress can positively influence your performance, such as for a race or a meeting, prolonged periods of stress can create havoc in your body.
Even though men and women both experience stress, it manifests differently in both genders. Stress can affect women in ways that are much serious than in men. In simple words, stress can destroy a woman in many different ways, both physically and mentally.
The most significant effect of stress on women is on their emotional well-being. It might make them irritable, moody, sad or more emotional than they are on stress-free days. Prolonged periods of stress can lead to mental health problems like depression and anxiety. They may find even low-pressure activities overwhelming. Some may turn to substance abuse, which might, in turn, create a wide range of health conditions.
The most common trigger for headaches is any form of stress. It can lead to migraines or dull throbbing pain and tightness in the head. Sometimes it may also lead to shoulder pains and interfere with one’s daily functioning.
Women are at a higher risk of heart attacks due to stress as compared to men. The stress hormone cortisol narrows the arteries over a period of time and makes it difficult for an adequate amount of blood to reach the heart. Women under stress may reach out for comfort foods like pizzas, chocolates and ice creams which can increase their cholesterol levels. Other habits like smoking and drinking can lead to different heart issues and heart attacks.
Cortisol stimulates the appetite as it increases insulin levels in the body. It can make them crave sugary, fatty foods that can, in turn, lead to weight gain. Stress can also cause unhealthy eating behaviours, such as emotional eating, skipping meals and reaching out for junk food. Even if women under stress do not consume high-calorie foods, cortisol slows down their metabolism causing them to burn lesser calories than usual.
Several gynaecologists have identified that stress is one of the most common causes for menstrual irregularities. Cortisol can interfere with the hormones that control the menstrual cycle and lead to lighter, heavier or more painful periods than usual. It may even pause the periods for a while until the cortisol levels are back to normal. For women going through menopause, higher cortisol levels for a prolonged period can make the transition tougher, causing hot flashes, disturbed sleep and other discomforts. Women trying to get pregnant might also find it difficult if they are stressed.
When someone is stressed, it is natural that sex may be the last thing on their mind. However, prolonged periods of stress can cause cortisol to suppress the sex hormones, thereby affecting one’s sexual desires. Even if they indulge in sex, they may not be fully present and may not feel pleasure. While women may find it difficult to achieve climax on regular days, being stressed can make it more difficult.
Stress can cause acid refluxes, nausea, bloating and stomach cramps. If the stress level is extremely high, it may also lead to vomiting and diarrhoea. For some, stress can kill their appetite and lead to weight loss. Increased consumption of unhealthy foods during stress can disturb the gut microbiome, also affecting mood and energy levels.
Stress can make existing skin conditions in women worse. It can lead to acne breakouts, severe itching, rashes and hives. Women also experience severe hair loss if they are stressed for a long period.
Women experiencing high levels of stress can find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. It can cause sleep deprivation, which can, in turn, cause obesity, kidney problems, diabetes, heart diseases, strokes, etc. A sleep-deprived woman who is also stressed can find it difficult to perform daily tasks.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can affect one’s immunity and make one susceptible to infections and diseases. Therefore, a woman experiencing stress may fall sick more often.
The stress hormones affect women’s bodies differently than it affects men. While more research is required in this area, the limbic system in women is deeper in women than in men, which makes them feel emotions more deeply than men. It can make them remember hurtful and painful situations for longer, ruminate about them and create reactions that are stronger.
Often, women are also expected to handle family responsibilities and work at the same time, which can make them feel overwhelmed. Situations like being unable to get pregnant due to stress can make them feel even more stressed. Such situations might create stress that can last longer and keep cortisol levels high for longer periods, thereby damaging the body for longer.
As a man or a well-wisher
If you are a man and you are concerned about the women in your life who tend to get stressed, here are some things you can do to help them out:
* Lend an ear to them and listen to them as they vent
* Do not offer advice unless asked
* Do not dismiss their emotions
* Offer reassurance
* Share or take over some responsibilities if possible to allow them some ‘me time’.
* Help them identify what triggers their stress
* Introduce the idea of seeking professional help
As a woman
If you are a woman who wants to escape from the shackles of stress, here are some things that can be of help:
* Try to write down a list of things that give you stress, and see what you can do to reduce them.
* Maintain a journal and pen down your thoughts
* Exercise regularly and pay special attention to your diet
* Stay away from sugary foods
* Reduce habits like smoking or drinking
* Pick a hobby
* Meditate regularly
* Practice mindfulness and gratitude
* Schedule time away from social media
* Practice sleep hygiene and make sure you get enough sleep (6 to 8 hours)
* Get enough fresh air and sunlight daily
* Identify triggers and use professional help to deal with them
* Seek professional help if needed
Sometimes, women may be burdened with expectations and responsibilities, making them overwhelmed and stressed. If you are suffering from stress for a long time, it may be a good idea to identify the root cause and address it. In case you are unable to do it on your own, seek professional help.
If you are a friend or a man who cares for the women in your life, you can lend an ear to their problems and help them seek professional help. Sometimes, making a list of things causing stress, prioritizing them in order of urgency and brainstorming ways of dealing with them can be a great activity and help women feel in control when things seem chaotic.
Women are fantastic at multitasking and handling multiple responsibilities, but hey, making time for yourselves everyday to do what you please should also be on your to-do list. Ultimately, the way we want to live is in our hands.